By Alex Zener
High school football is just around the corner with both Marcos de Niza and Corona del Sol high schools scheduled to play in less than a month. What may be a surprise to fans of both schools relates to the new AIA high school football regions and the schedules.
The schedules were drawn up at a meeting of the athletic directors in mid-July, promising to provide teams with more competitive schedules. They certainly did for Corona.
Both Corona and Marcos de Niza, which played against each other last season in Division II, are in different classifications.
Corona is part the newly designated 6A classification and in the Central Region, along with Desert Ridge, Desert Vista, Gilbert, Highland and Mountain Pointe.
Marcos de Niza is classified as 4A in the Desert Sky Region with Casa Grande, Higley, Seton Catholic Prep and Tempe.
McClintock is now part of 5A in the Metro Region with Apollo, Ironwood, Maricopa, Raymond S. Kellis and Sunnyslope.
You can find the classifications, regions and schedules at http://www.azpreps365.com/teams/football/6a
Some of the standout football players from last season at both Marcos de Niza and Corona have graduated and moved on, while other familiar names are still in high school hoping to show how the work they put in during the off-season has paid off.
Marcos de Niza Football — The Padres had one of their best seasons last year, making it all the way to the 2015 AIA Division II State Championship game before heartbreak set in with a 38-20 loss to Saguaro.
Their quest this season to win a championship game in the new 4A classification is definitely possible but will not be easy because Saguaro is also classified as 4A.
The Padres, though, return three players who were named by azcentral.com as the top Arizona high school football prospects in the 2017 graduating class. All three seniors—Nazareth Greer, Marcus Naisant and Anthony Nicastro—had a huge impact on the success of last season’s team and are predicted to do the same this season.
Marcos quarterback Greer, at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, has been a staple of the offense with his big arm and the ability to pass the ball. He was nothing but amazing as a sophomore when he averaged almost 260 yard a game but had stellar performances last season to help get the Padres into the championship game averaging over 221 passing yards per game that culminated into 24 touchdowns. He also rushed for six touchdowns.
Marcos’ wide receiver, Naisant, is not only known among Padres fans for his spectacular catch in last year’s championship game but for his track and field prowess this past spring.
At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Naisant is speedy on the football field and on the track. Last spring, he not only had the best times on his Padre track team in the 100 and 200 meters but was the lead-off runner in the 4×100 relay team that took first place at the Division II AIA State Championship track meet.
Naisant also took first in the triple jump, second in long jump and fifth in high jump in the same state championship meet, and then went on to take third place in the Arizona Javelin State Championships that same month.
Naisant played in all 15 football games last season as a wide receiver. He was the second leading receiver, after Shaun Richards, catching 35 passes, gaining 688 yard and scoring six touchdowns.
Naisant also had a key role on special teams as a punt and kickoff returner, plus he was credited with blocking a field goal attempt by Mesquite.
Nicastro, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound defensive end, is a defensive specialist who played a key role in the Padre’s success last season when they averaged 60 tackles a game. Nicastro alone had over 15 tackles for losses and over 10 sacks during the season.
The Padres are currently scheduled to play their first game, a non-region game, at home against Prescott on Aug. 26.
If the Padres continue this season where they left off in December, they should give the fans lots to cheer about and keep the hopes alive for a 4A state championship.
Corona Football — The Aztecs spent July 18-22 at a team camp at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside, working on team chemistry and further skill development with interim head coach Richard Mettlach.
“The kids worked hard, we got quite a bit done, and we deemed it a success when we came down off the hill,” said Mettlach.
Mettlach, who has over 36 years of football coaching experience in Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, took over when Cory Nenaber resigned to become athletic director after the retirement of Dan Nero this summer.
After spending 36 years as a teacher and coach, and 23 years as a head coach in Michigan, Mettlach retired to Arizona to enjoy the weather and play golf. He must have missed the football field because he ended up coaching with Nenaber at Maricopa before following him to Corona two years ago.
“Coach Mettlach is an incredible man of character and has tremendous experience as a football coach,” said Nenaber. “He was my defensive coordinator for the last four years and an assistant coach in my program for the past six years.”
The last thing Corona’s football program and players needed was a totally new coach after spending the past two seasons learning Nenaber’s coaching style.
“A big part of the reason Coach Mettlach was chosen was to keep some consistency in the program since my transition to Athletic Director happened so late in the school year,” said Nenaber. “He has very similar philosophies and has brought consistency to the lives of the players through this summer heading into the next football season.”
Corona is hoping to find a new head coach after the season.
Only one Corona player, Cameron Brice, was named to azcentral.com’s top Arizona high school football prospects list for the 2017 class but he’s definitely had an impact on the football program his first three years.
Brice, at 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, embodies the word “power” on the football field. Brice was the leading rusher on the Aztec’s 7-4 team, who made it into the playoff for the first time in year, amassing over a 1000 rushing yardage and 13 touchdowns in 2015.
“Cameron Brice and Matt Fick, who have been in the program since their freshman year, the last two under coach Nenaber’s tenure, have taken over the reins of leadership for the team,” said Mettlach. “They are both great players who are key returning starters from last season.”
Fick, at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, is one of the Aztec offensive linemen who don’t get much ink on the stat sheets except for their pancake blocks.
A pancake block, according to livestrong.com, is a block that leaves a defensive player flat on his back as the running back goes through the hole.
Fick had 30 pancake blocks last season and Brice was most likely the running back going through the hole the majority of the time.
Emerging from spring ball and summer camp as the designated starting quarterback is senior Austin Helt, the back-up to Austin Freese last season, according to Mettlach. No mention so far of who Helt’s backup will be this season.
The Aztec coaching staff came out of camp mostly enthusiastic about Corona’ defense.
“We feel very good about where we are defensively,” said Mettlach. “We have a large number of defensive starters back this season. We also have a number of players projected to start who backed up our seniors last season.”
Mettlach mentioned quite a few defensive players, as you would expect from the defensive coordinator who had worked with some of these players significantly the past two years, but was quick to point out that all the players, on offense and defense, have worked extremely hard during spring ball and summer camp to improve their strength, conditioning and skills.
“Middle linebacker, Jacob Clemens is a player,” said Mettlach. “If he stays healthy, he is going to have a great year.”
“Kaden Carter, our free safety, communicates with our defense from the secondary,” said Mettlach. “He has a lot of responsibility—takes care of all of our checks.”
“Kobee Marion started as a corner last year,” said Mettlach, “but he has come a long way since that time. He has really solidified our corner position.”
Brice also returns as a defensive linebacker, plus the coaching staff has several returning players to fill any open positions, according to Mettlach.
“We have a number of players who are filling in the spots when the seniors graduated who have done a very good job, including Dylan Conner, Jason Staples, Jared Hatler and Kaden Riforgiate,” said Mettlach.
Corona will play its first region game against Gilbert Highland a week earlier than most teams during what is classified as Zero Week because of a conflict with fall break when it’s difficult to get workers and volunteers.